Amir Baradaran

Posted in Visual Arts on Oct 15, 2010


So imagine that you’re in a New York City taxi and this (minus the titles) comes on the monitor in the backseat:

Jarring? Captivating? Intriguing? Provocative? Yes, yes, yes and yes. This video is a trailer for Amir Baradaran’s Transient, a video installation that ran on 6300 monitors in New York taxi cabs from September 9-15. How the tens of thousands of passengers riding in these cabs would react was something no one could predict, but at the end of this q&a you’ll see a video of their thoughts. First, though, you’ll have a chance to hear what the artist intended with his series of 40-second videos.

Amir’s other recent work includes a guerrilla performance piece called The Other Artist is Present, “wherein he honors, questions and ultimately departs from Marina Abramovic’s performance (last spring) at the Museum of Modern Art NYC, entitled The Artist Is Present.” (Abramovic’s piece had her sitting silently in a gallery where the public could come and interact with her.) You can see some of Amir’s performance here.

Marina Abramovic & Amir Baradaran at MoMA, image from New York Artbeat

Amir’s Transient resonates with me because it inserts itself when and where people least expect it – in this case, minding their own business in a cab. Having ridden in many cabs during my years living in New York, I have to say that seeing Transient pop up in a cab tv monitor would indeed be shocking…it might even be the second most surprising thing that would have occurred during a cab ride. Ah, but I’ve said too much already….


still from Amir Baradaran's Transient

Is Transient about promoting the idea that “the journey is the reward” or is it meant to help humanize the taxi drivers, who busy riders often don’t really see?

My interest with Transient was in creating a set of conditions that would make the passenger aware of the space they were in, to activate the space and bring attention to the nature of their commute and the possibilities for transformation therein. Within that reflective space, I didn’t really have an agenda or desire to dictate the viewer’s reactions.

Have you received any feedback from passengers – what did they take away from seeing Transient?

I actually sent out my team to record people’s reactions to Transient. It was really varied, from people who were disturbed by the piece to people who had really thoughtful responses to people who just didn’t care for it. I was just pleased that most people seemed to find it really provocative, really thought-provoking.

still from Amir Baradaran's Transient

We’re all a little in our own world when we’re in a cab – was there a certain way you created the work to bring riders’ attention to the tv screen when your piece came on?

The piece starts with static, something totally not in keeping with the usual sounds of taxi monitor programming. It seemed to be really jarring to people when they first encountered it.

How did you get 6,300 cabs to agree to show Transient?

I went back and forth for awhile with the three different companies that do the programming in the taxis and finally came to an agreement with Verifone.

What did the cab drivers think of this work? And did you hear of any cab drivers who had an interesting interaction with a passenger as a result of the passenger seeing Transient?

Most of the drivers I worked with were into the idea of using the TaxiTV monitor for an art project. I haven’t heard any stories of interesting passenger interactions, but would love to hear about it!

still from Amir Baradaran's Transient

What was your path to becoming an artist? Are your parents creative and/or did they encourage your creativity?

I come from a very literary family. My grandfather is working on his latest book of poetry! Though my family was artistic, I didn’t originally intend to become an artist. My background was more academic. I studied political science, philosophy, and queer theory. I was an activist and organizer in Montreal, too. I received my Master of Arts degree in Communications and was on the path to becoming a professor. But I realized it wasn’t really what I wanted to do.

I think that the questions I was asking in my academic career are similar to the things that I address in my artistic practice. The critical difference, of course, between my old and new career would be that art works on the level of consciousness-changing, as opposed to changes in policy or the like. While my process is very research intensive, I’m not tied to a specific medium. The idea guides how a given work manifests itself in the world.

What other projects are you working on now?

A body of photographic work came out of the Transient series. As well, I’ve re-edited some of the video footage into a new three channel, rear projection installation.

Proust Questionnaire

Don’t ask me to: Be on time!

I would put into a time capsule my: If only I could learn not to hold on to the past….

My favorite place is: Sao Paulo

When I have a creative block I: I remember that this too shall pass!

My favorite mantra is: God is beautiful!

  • 4 responses to "Amir Baradaran"

  • lenore
    18th October 2010 at 14:44

    so true, daniele…remember the film Taxi Driver?! We do live in a time when it’s easy to tune people out and I really liked that it called attention to the driver, whose face it’s so rare to actually see in the quick transactions of cab rides. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Daniele
    18th October 2010 at 11:30

    Very interesting work! I’m thinking I would have been freaked out like a few of the people mentioned- my first thought was the murderous cab driver in the movie ‘the Bone Collector’! Its fascinating that most people jump into a cab and never think of anything but themselves until… Thanks for sharing! xo

  • lenore
    17th October 2010 at 21:03

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Mark. I’m really moved by the jarring and engaging nature of Amir’s work, too. Eager to see what comes next from him.

  • Mark Melendy
    15th October 2010 at 14:49

    Very very interesting discussion. The concept of invading what is generally a somewhat mindless quiet time riding in a cab was fascinating. The direct eye contact made by the driver had a distinct impact on the riders. Clearly the clip engaged the riders, perhaps in large part in an uncomfortable way, but it at least it engaged them. Nice job presenting this information!